The Kawasaki Z1 Story by Dave Sheehan – Review

The Kawasaki Z1 Story by Dave Sheehan | Rider's Library
The Kawasaki Z1 Story

Ian Fleming’s James Bond franchise has nothing on Dave Sheehan’s telling of the saga of the creation of the Kawasaki Z1.

It includes the inside story on clandestine road testing of early Z1s disguised as Honda 750s, mission impossible design and engineering deadlines, turn-on-a dime changes of direction in the development process and the use of secret code names, words and numbers—to name but a few of the fascinating aspects of Z1 history.

Unless you come from a mechanical design or engineering background, it might be hard to imagine a book that can make you find the creation of a new motorcycle model “fascinating,” but if there’s a book that can do it, this is it.

“The Kawasaki Z1 Story, the Death and Re-birth of the 900 Super 4,” takes the reader deeper inside the creation of a new motorcycle than any book I’ve seen. The book covers the politics, economics, engineering, intrigue and triumph of the process in such detail, you’ll feel like you were a part of it as it happened.

Even the somewhat macabre aspects of project secrecy come to light. For example, the Z1 was known by a series of different code names at various stages of development. Initially, in 1967, when Kawasaki envisioned bringing it to market as a DOHC 750 four cylinder, it was code named N600. Then, in 1968, Honda pre-empted the project by introducing the CB750.

That caused Kawasaki to stop N600 development and reassess its market strategy. By 1970, secret track testing of its reconfigured four cylinder prototype now code named 9057 was underway; the code name “New York Steak” also applied then. Next, the engine development phase was code named “project T103.”

In May 1972, Kawasaki gave U.S. dealers 29 pre-production units to evaluate; those were designated “Model X” but were also known as “V” or “V1” bikes. It’s hard to believe all those monikers actually referred to the same model motorcycle.

It may put some would-be readers off to call the book “scholarly” but the fact is Sheehan built the book on an amazing volume of research; there are more footnotes and endnotes in the book than some college textbooks. Make no mistake, though, there is nothing boring, dull or textbook-like in it. Still, it would be an excellent choice for required reading in an industrial design curriculum. In that, it could introduce would-be designers to the real-world of high-pressure design on deadline.

In March 1971, Kawasaki’s chief stylist, Ken Tada was given the assignment to develop the aesthetics for the new bike and create a full-size mock-up—in thirty days! Tada pulled it off but, as Sheehan relates, Tada said he had to tell his wife to “forget that she had a husband for a month.”

Sheehan covers the secretive 8,000 mile cross-country shake down ride taken by Kawasaki testers in the U.S. with Z1s disguised as Honda CB750s and the bike’s stunning victory in the first race it was entered in—an 8 hour endurance race at Vaca Valley Raceway. At the time of that victory, the Z1 was not even in dealer showrooms yet. The big Z crushed the competition by about 28 laps by race’s end.

Sheehan includes an in-depth look at the history of Kawasaki Heavy Industries that spans more than a century. He includes details on how the company’s motorcycle operations came to be and includes material on the original Z1’s successors. He even provides a chapter that recalls other key events of the times the Z1 lived in as well as appendices with specifications, performance data and comparative data from Cycle magazine’s 1973 model year Big 7 Superbike Comparison test. The book includes more than 130 color and black/white images.

There is a great deal more to tell and Sheehan does a superb job telling it. If you own a Z1, this book would be an excellent addition to your library—and, for that matter, it would be even if you didn’t.

Book Data:

  • Title: The Kawasaki Z1 Story, the Death and Re-birth of the 900 Super 4
  • Author: Dave Sheehan
  • Published: 2015 Paperback. 256 pages. Measures 5.75” x 8.25.”
  • Publisher: Veloce Publishing, Parkway Farm Business Park, Middle Farm Way, Poundbury, Dorchester, DT1 3AR, England
  • ISBN: 978-1-845848-07-1   MSRP: U.S. $25 U.K. £14.99 CAN $30

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